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Gilas-force wind fans Azkals

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The exploits of Gilas Pilipinas in the recent Fiba Asia Championship and its safe passage into basketball’s World Cup in Spain next year have sparked the country’s other dream team—the Azkals—to rethink the possible.

 

Rising in the Fifa rankings is attainable and inevitable, Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said this week.

“The more we climb the ladder, the more we get invited to play against top-notch international clubs,” he said.

From 170th in the world four years ago, the Azkals were at 141st place as of August, quite a feat considering that once, soccer in the Philippines seemed headed for the graveyard.

Although the Azkals have leaped 29 notches in the world rankings and ignited a resurgence of their game in the process, they have to sustain a conspicuous presence in the Fifa radar each time.

Fifa (French acronym for the International Football Federation), soccer’s world governing body, rates national teams every month, a given very much in the mind of Araneta and the game’s acknowledged godfather and prime mover, businessman Dan Palami.

The Azkals don’t see action in a major tournament until March, in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in the Maldives.

Thus, the gutsy bronze medalists in the last Cup in Nepal and semifinalists in the 2010 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup will have to win friendly games.

In between the top tourneys, a team’s success in the friendlies counts in Fifa’s rankings.

Mindful of PH’s giant strides, the United Arab Emirates has invited the Azkals to play against its national eleven, currently 84th in the world on Nov. 9.

The PFF also has lined up friendlies versus high-level teams with an eye on the rankings and the forthcoming Cup that books a ticket to the Asian Cup in Sydney in 2015.

The Azkals will face off with New Zealand and New Caledonia while preparing for the Philippine Cup. Recent Challenge Cup qualifier Kyrgyzstan is expected to play when the Azkals defend their Philippine Cup title in Bacolod City in mid-October.

The PFF is likewise pitching for a contingent of under-23 players to compete in the Southeast Asian Games in December. This lineup is a “feeder” to the Azkals A-team. There is no better way to prepare young players than to expose them to international competitions, like the SEA Games, according to Araneta.

***

Meantime, the methodical development of local soccer players for the center pitch continues.

This week, the PFF got a carte blanche deal from the Fifa for its grassroots campaign to identify talents under 13, 16, 19 and 23 years of age.

PFF officials and Roy Thomas, its German grassroots development expert, met with a Fifa technical team that assured guaranteed assistance in terms of equipment and supplies in pursuit of local soccer’s “new frontier” campaign.

The campaign will penetrate other country sides not reached by the PFF’s 33 associations across the country.

The PFF is involved in a P100 million-a-year effort to propagate soccer. One of its goals is to form a mostly homegrown Azkals team by 2020. Of this amount, only P6 million goes to the administrative cost of soccer’s national sports association.

Among the more benevolent contributors are the Fifa, AFC, AFF, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., the Manny V. Pangilinan group of companies, Japanese motorcycle giant Suzuki and local forwarding giant Air21. The Philippine Sports Commission doles out P5 million to the PFF every year.  (Inquirer.net)

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